A mad tale of a mad genius, by a young author (Ex Utero, 1995) who may be a genius herself. The coming-of-age story has a...

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PORTRAIT OF THE WALRUS BY A YOUNG ARTIST

A mad tale of a mad genius, by a young author (Ex Utero, 1995) who may be a genius herself. The coming-of-age story has a long tradition behind it and is usually pretty easy to spot. Foos constructs hers with all the traditional materials--adolescent confusion, anger, family conflict, fear--built upon a foundation of allegory rather than realism, and the effect is as unsettling as a Tudor mansion erected in the desert. Frances Fisk, our narrator, is only 18, but she's already starting to come apart at the seams. Her late father, an artist who gained attention for his sculptures of men with chainsaws, became increasingly deranged and reclusive, dying of dehydration in a bathtub. Frances herself, with the passage of time, has grown more and more obsessed with her father and his art. Meanwhile, her mother Arlene, now married to professional bowler Stanley Boardman (""the Kingpin""), is so determined that her daughter not follow in her father's footsteps that she forbids Frances to work on her shark sculptures and insists that she take up bowling instead. ""If I had known walruses were waiting for me on some back road in Florida,"" Frances complains, ""I might have taken more of an interest in bowling."" Why? Because the walruses Frances sees mating at the aquarium become a new obsession, one that ultimately saves her from madness and brings her to the realization that she's a poet rather than a sculptor. By the time this recognition transpires, the reader has been immersed in Frances's world long enough to understand, or at least accept, the odd logic that prevails in it, and the real strength of the narrative is the clarity with which it translates private griefs and misapprehensions into coherent symbols capable of advancing an astonishingly original story. Brilliant, fresh, and remarkable: one of the few works of recent years in which brave originality is sustained by genuine skill.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0156005433

Page Count: 175

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997